Leukoplakia are white patches that develop on the soft tissue of the mouth. This can include gums, tongue, or inner cheeks. The patches form over the course of weeks or months.There are different types of leukoplakia that may appear in different areas of the body, such as the vulva in females, esophagus, or bladder. The information in this fact sheet will focus on oral leukoplakia.


Leukoplakia usually results from irritants, such as:
  • Smoking, including cigars and pipes
  • Smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco or snuff
  • Rough teeth
  • Rough places on dentures, fillings, or crowns

Risk Factors

Leukoplakia is more common in men after age 65. Other factors that may increase your chance of leukoplakia include:
  • Tobacco use, especially smokeless tobacco
  • Long-time alcohol use
  • Suppressed immune system, which can occur with chronic health conditions or medications


Leukoplakia causes patches on the tongue, gums, or inside of the cheeks. These patches may appear as:
  • White, gray, or red in color
  • Thick, slightly raised, or hardened on the surface
There may be pain or signs of infection. The patches may also be sensitive to touch, heat, or spicy foods. In some cases, leukoplakia looks like oral thrush, which is an infection also associated with HIV infection and suppressed immune function.
Oral Thrush—Resembles Leukoplakia
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Untreated leukoplakia can turn into cancer. Some types of leukoplakia carry a higher risk of turning into cancer than others. If you have leukoplakia, talk to your doctor about your cancer risk and how often you should be evaluated or tested.

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